Embracing Imperfection with Sourdough – Part 2

I have finally figured out my sourdough baking regimen. Dare I say, perfected it? I think not (note the title of this post), but I am happy enough with my routine that I’d like to share it with any aspiring sourdough bakers seeking inspiration, encouragement, or reassurance.

As I explained in Part 1 of this post, my household acquired a new member at the outset of the pandemic: Stan the sourdough starter. Stan’s appearance in our lives was prompted by the concern that we would not be able to obtain bread while in COVID-19 lockdown; we take bread very seriously in our house. So we ordered a dehydrated sourdough starter from Cultures for Health. After a week of daily feedings (flour and water) the starter was activated and ready to be used. (As an alternative to ordering a dehydrated starter, you can adopt some of a friend’s or begin a starter from scratch.)

A Couple Notes

Before we go any further, I must make two important points regarding (1) sourdough “discard” and (2) kitchen tools.

(1) DISCARD: Every time you feed your starter, it grows exponentially. Not only are you adding flour and water; once fed, the starter produces gas leading it to double in volume. So, the only way to keep your starter a manageable size is to “discard” some of it before each feeding. There are a few ways to “discard”: you can compost the excess starter, put it in the garbage, or (my favorite!) use it in baked goods. More on this later.

(2) TOOLS: I am an old-fashioned baker. Generally speaking, I’m happy with the simplest of kitchen tools: bowl, spoon, knife, measuring spoons and cups, etc. However, when it comes to sourdough baking, there are two gadgets I could not do without: a food scale and instant-read thermometer. These are affordable ($30 total) essentials you will come to love!

PREP

Once Stan the starter was active—happily bubbling within a few hours of feedings—I put 60 grams in a small glass container and tucked it away in the fridge. One evening (DAY 1), after about a week, I pull him out, transfer him into a larger jar, and feed him. The feeding formula is: equal quantities by weight starter, flour, water. I keep 60g starter, so that means stirring in 60g flour and 60g water. Stan then spends the night on the counter.

In the morning (DAY 2), I divide Stan three ways (this is when the food scale is so helpful!). I remove 38g to get a levain going (see below); this eventually will join a mixture of flour, water, and salt to become two delicious loaves of bread. Of the remaining starter, 60g goes back in the fridge for the following week. This leaves me with about 80g “discard,” which I feed (equal parts water and flour) so I can use it later to make a batch of scones. What I love so much about this routine is that I don’t waste any starter!

Left-Right: 60g starter for the fridge;
38g starter for bread, fed according to
levain recipe below;
80g “discard” for scones, fed 80g flour & 80g water.

RECIPES: Bread & Scones

BREAD: I use Maurizio Leo’s Beginner’s Sourdough Bread, from his website The Perfect Loaf. (Yes, I know it’s ironic I source my recipe from a website called “The Perfect Loaf” given that—as explained in Part 1 of this post—I’m using sourdough baking to embrace imperfection. But what would life be without irony?) The recipe below is Maurizio’s, paraphrased and very lightly edited; all I have done is simplify it for readers who, like myself, prefer to keep things short and sweet in the kitchen.

Make your levain: Mix together in a jar 37g sourdough starter, 37g whole wheat flour, 37g bread flour, 74g water. Store somewhere warm for 5–6 hours. The levain is the agent responsible for making your bread dough rise.

4 hours later: With your hands, mix together in a large bowl 748g bread flour, 159g whole wheat flour, 641g warm water. Cover the bowl and store next to your levain for 1 hour.

The flour and water mixture described above are in the covered bowl. My levain is still fermenting in its jar, as is the sourdough “discard” I will soon use to make scones (hence the stick of butter).

NOTE: Sourdough is MESSY. Flour and water congeal into a glue-like substance that is truly a pain to clean up. I find it helpful to keep a basin of cold water at the ready. Yes, cold water; warm water causes gluten to develop and just makes things stickier. After the above mixing step, your hands will be covered in dough. Rinse them off in the basin. Also toss all utensils into the cold water so the dough residue doesn’t dry out (making clean-up all the more impossible).

1 hour later: Add to the flour and water mixture levain, 18g sea salt, ~50g warm water. Only add enough water to mix everything together with your hands.

Bulk fermentation for 4 hours: Perform 3 sets of stretch and folds during bulk fermentation, spaced out by 30 mins. “Wet your hands with a little water to prevent sticking and then lift up one side (North) of the dough with two hands. Stretch the dough up high enough just so that you can fold it completely over to the other side of the dough in the bowl. Rotate the bowl 180° and do the other side (South). Finish the other two sides (East and West) to complete the set. Let the dough rest 30 minutes, covered, between sets. After that third set of stretch and folds, let the dough rest for the remainder of bulk fermentation.”

SCONES: At this point, while the dough is fermenting, it’s time to bake scones! I follow this recipe from Bake from Scratch. (The 1 cup sourdough starter called for is exactly how much you set aside in the morning.) It’s quick and easy; you’ll be pulling a tray of freshly baked scones out of the oven within the hour. A delightful prospect, no?

Sourdough discard scones

After bulk fermentation: Lightly flour a work surface and dump out the dough (it should have risen 20–50% during bulk fermentation). Cut the dough in half. “[T]urn each half of dough on the counter while lightly pulling the dough towards you. This gently turning and pulling motion will develop tension on the top of the dough forming a round circle.” Let the dough rest for 25 mins. Then, shape each circle into a boule (round loaf) according to the video below.

Maurizio Leo shapes a boule

After shaping, place boule seam-side-up into a towel-lined kitchen bowl lightly dusted with flour. Cover the bowls, rest on the counter for 20 minutes, then put into the refrigerator for 16 hours.

The next afternoon (DAY 3), after the loaves have been in the fridge for 16 hours: Preheat your oven to 450°F, with a Dutch oven (e.g. Le Creuset) inside. Remove one loaf from the fridge and flip it onto a cutting board. Score with a knife.

Remove your Dutch oven (careful, it’s hot!) and sprinkle with some cornmeal; this will prevent the bottom of your loaf from burning. Place your loaf inside the Dutch oven, and bake covered for 20 minutes. Then bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Bread is done when your thermometer reads over 208°F. Repeat with second loaf. Let each cool for at least 1 hour before cutting!

Bon appétit! Time to slather a thick slice of your homemade sourdough with butter and devour no less than half the loaf in one sitting. Ready to give it a try? I have attempted to make this post thorough but not overwhelming. As such, I’ve left out a few details. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch in the comments or via email (TwoInTheWorld@hotmail.com). I will do my best to assist!

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